The Apple Treasures Orchards in Clonmel were started in 2017 when myself, Theresia Guschlbauer, and Lyn Mather – also known as the arts collective 2CanDoArts – devised an apple tree trail in Clonmel town centre for a Creative Ireland research project. The project was an investigation into how apples, apple growing and cider making influenced Clonmel and its people, and how this unique ecosystem might be enhanced and reactivated by artistic means in a beneficially meaningful way in Clonmel town today.
Gathering stories and memories about apples and apple trees, and through mapping key locations, we became aware of how many orchards Clonmel used to have, with most of today’s town car parks having once upon a time been fully fledged fruit gardens. With their removal and the relocation of Bulmers yard out of town, a whole vernacular culture associated with apple cultivation, eating, crushing and pressing was slowly vanishing: the gestures and smells, the sights and sounds; the games and dares (climbing the mound of apples at Bulmers without falling or being found out); the ‘dudding’ (stealing apples) at Dr Callaghan’s house; and the drinking and singing (Johnny Jump up).
So when it came to planting those initial 18 trees for the Culture Night tree trail, we thought of the riverbanks and public areas, especially the recently completed Suir Blueway, so that everybody could enjoy them and share in the harvest of their fruit. A first set of 10 apple trees was planted in October 2017 as part of the Positive Mental Health week at Denis Burke Park, with the remaining 8 being planted at the Convent Bridge with the help of Presentation school pupils.
These initial trees had been sponsored by local businesses, so when inquiries came in the following Spring whether there were more trees to adopt, it made sense to continue. Especially as in the meantime, planning had started on an inaugural Applefest festival and the scheme could help to fund the event. Since that Spring of 2018, over a hundred more trees have been planted and adopted along the Suir Blueway in five different locations: Convent Bridge, Greenane, Denis Burke Park, Loreto Park and the Galloping Field.
Trees have been sourced from local suppliers and from Irish Seedsavers and comprise an assortment of eating, cooking and crab varieties. Most have been dedicated to Clonmel citizens past, present and future: tradespeople, well-know figures and local characters, newborn babies, loved ones, friends, parents, brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, cousins, grandchildren and most recently, Leap Year twins.
It has been an opportunity to involve, in a discreet way, the Clonmel community but also its diaspora, those whose families hail from the town, but who no longer live here. I imagine adopting a tree is their way to claim back a bit of the past, a memory of a granny’s orchard, a parent’s favourite tree or a place a loved one came from. Reconnecting with one’s roots at a time when life can seem transient and volatile makes sense to this expat, who has been adopted by this place and its people.
Our scheme benefited greatly from the enthusiastic support of the late Martin Behan, Clonmel Tidy Towns chairman, and Frank O’Donoghue, beloved founding members who both died quite recently. Their passion for Clonmel, its green spaces, trees and pollinators led them to embrace our endeavours with much practical help and support in kind. The humble apple and its relationship to the bee was given a much needed boost by CTT ’s work as was the status of Clonmel and its environs when the group won the All-Ireland Pollinator Award in 2018.
Martin’s endeavours especially were central to locating one of the orchards on the Greenane Blueway – right across the river from St Mary’s church where some of the original flood plains still remain. The stretch of land there has been host to nearly 30 apple trees so far and many Clonmel citizens enjoy their changing shapes through the changing light and seasons.
The pollinator plan encourages us to look at nature’s vibrancy as a sign of a thriving habitat, indispensable for pollinators to multiply. In Clonmel, pollinator-friendly practices have been adopted by Tipperary County Council with their enlightened no-mow practice along road verges, the wild flowers roundabouts with accompanying signage and the distribution of wildflower seeds.
For a fully integrated pollinator-friendly countywide vision to really take root however, we need home and land owners across the county to embrace the plan and let nature – and hedgerows in particular – take their course by leaving them ‘untidy’ during the nesting and flowering season at the very least. Conserving and promoting hedgerows and flowering trees, such as apple trees, will give bees and pollinators a much needed boost.
We continue with our efforts, greatly enhanced by partnering and the support of vital local organisations like Clonmel Tidy Towns, SuirCan Community Forum, Stan and our local Council foreman, Eric Ryan, who has been a great biodiversity champion. This is just the beginning of a vision to grow Clonmel’s reputation as a biodiversity hub true to its name as the ‘meadow of honey’.